Where: Ottheinrichsbau building at Heidelberg Palace / The Palace of Versailles Research Centre
When: 7-10 November 2022
Organisers: History Seminar, Ruprecht-Karls University Heidelberg, in cooperation with the German Historical Institute Paris, the Center de Recherce du Château de Versailles and the State Palaces and Gardens, Baden-Württemberg
8 December 2022 marks the 300th anniversary of the death of Elisabeth-Charlotte von der Pfalz (1652-1722), commonly known as “Liselotte” or – in France – as “Madame Palatine”. Even in today’s Germany and France, she is not only known to historical and literary specialists of courtly culture in the early modern period, but also to a broader public beyond academia and special research. The daughter of a Palatinate elector and sister-in-law of Louis XIV owes her recognition to her passion for writing letters, since the majority of her estimated 6,000 surviving letters were published in the mid-19th century (albeit in often fragmented versions). On both sides of the Rhine, Elisabeth-Charlotte has been used as a reliable “supplier of anecdotes”.
In Germany in particular, Liselotte became the key witness to the Franco-German “hereditary enmity” of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Her “original German nature” was contrasted with the “desert environment of a shameless and disorderly frivolity”, the “moral lack of discipline of the French court”. This image was deepened in numerous plays and popular biographies in both countries. Only Arlette Lebigre and Dirk van der Cruysse, in 1986 and 1989, attempted to overcome these clichés. The portraits of Elisabeth-Charlotte briefly heightened the interest in her, supported by the major “Liselotte” exhibition in Heidelberg in 1996-97. During these years, the formulated desideratum of research (e.g critical and complete edition of their correspondence) could not be implemented. Studies have repeatedly proven the richness of her letters far beyond the topic of the anecdotal and the eternal emphasis on her “German nature”. Interest in Liselotte has only increased again in recent years, as is illustrated by works on the literary potential of her letters and on the history of her body.
The 300th anniversary of the princess’s death should be taken as an opportunity to explore Elisabeth-Charlotte and her letters again, to take up the discussion of the early 1990s, to re-evaluate her biography against the background of new research on courtly culture in Versailles, more recently to balance research on physicality and rhetoric in the letters, and to develop new questions.
A conference is planned to take place on two consecutive days in Heidelberg and Versailles, the two places that have had a significant impact on the Duchess’ life. A key objective of this conference is to bring together literary and historical questions and perspectives and to stimulate a transdisciplinary exchange. Revising the image of the “German Liselotte” initiated by Van der Cruysse is also to be continued whilst being made accessible to a larger audience. Finally, we will deconstruct the “classic” or rather “German national” Liselotte pictures as a further development of Dirk Van der Cruysse’s efforts.
In order to interlink cultural and intellectual history, (auto-)biographical and literary studies issues and thus generate exciting synergy effects, the conference will be divided into four themes:
- “Stages of perception of Liselotte over the centuries:” In this section, the stereotypical image of Liselotte that developed through the fragmented reception of her letters is to be deconstructed. Topics of the lectures could be: Elisabeth-Charlotte in literature, theatre and film. How national is the perception of Elisabeth-Charlotte in different media? How do the Liselotte pictures in France and Germany differ? Have exhibitions contributed to the “national” image of Liselotte? Approaches from edition philology are also possible, which critically examine the history of the edition of the letterhead.
- “Elisabeth-Charlotte at the court of Louis XIV and the Régence:” In this section, Elisabeth-Charlotte’s own testimonies are to be compared with other historical sources and the observations of her contemporaries. Contributions that address Elisabeth-Charlotte’s relationships with other members of the family and the court are welcome. Was she as isolated as she has always been portrayed? What were the roles and duties of the king’s sister-in-law? Against the background of recent research, how can one reassess the family history of the court and the marriage between Elizabeth-Charlotte and Philip of Orléans? How did Elisabeth-Charlotte’s position at court change during the Régence? What perspectives emerge from your letters on the Régence? What contribution to the history of ideas do your letters make to the discourses of your time?
- “Readings:” The aim of the section is to show the richness of Elisabeth-Charlotte’s letters for questions and problematizations of cultural history or literary studies (to name just two disciplines). Her letters offer far more than the anecdotes and scatological crudeness that are repeatedly quoted. Contributions to the poetics and strategies of discursive self-thematization are just as welcome as the analysis of different rhetorical registers in Liselotte’s work. Approaches to the aesthetics of reception that examine Elisabeth-Charlotte’s letters with regard to their numerous comments on contemporary works are also welcome. Finally, we welcome editorial philological considerations with regard to a complete edition of the letters.
- “Elisabeth-Charlotte – ‘European Princess:’” In this section, the kinship and friendship networks “Madames” are to be addressed: The focus is on “portraits” of relatives and friends, as well as Elisabeth-Charlotte’s reputation as a “broker” for the German nobility at the French court. In addition, the relationship between Elisabeth-Charlotte and the Palatinate-Simmer dynasty will be examined. From a literary perspective, the question arises as to what extent Liselotte, through her often piquant style and her provocative choice of subject matter, played a decisive role in the creation and consolidation of national stereotypes.
Contributions from all historical cultural studies and related subjects are welcome, preferably with interdisciplinary approaches. Proposals (abstract of approx. 1 page, short academic CV) should be submitted in German, French or English to Sven Externbrink (firstname.lastname@example.org) by February 15, 2022. Feedback will be given in March 2021.